Friday, February 26, 2010

Reasons why I should write a book

1) I don’t give a flying frog about the Marinera. 2) I have no intention of explaining reason one. 3) I’m tired of attending meeting after meeting and contributing nothing more than an occasional nod of the head, and my signature on some document I don’t understand and never see again, but at meeting’s end we all stand up, smile and shake hands as if we’ve accomplished something. 4) I’ve run out of ideas for this blog, which may be fortunate because recently every time I start to write something I think I’m F. Scott Fitzgerald. No, really! It’s too damn hot to sleep at night so I’ve been reading a lot into the wee hours and lately it’s been Fitzgerald.

Maybe you don’t know Fitzgerald…. 1920s – Paris – the ‘lost generation’ including the likes of Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck et al (pinko commie bastards) – yawn. I admire Fitzgerald’s vocabulary, creativity and use of metaphors but I don’t think he ever put two common, every day words together. Perhaps that’s because his characters were always affluent, narcissistic inheritors of wealth. There!....see what I mean? I catch myself wanting to use those words in a blog about boat-building in Santa Rosa, for god’s sake! Hey Ethel!....looks like this Chiclayo gringo fella has gone in the tank! Let’s take him off our favorites! 5) I’m old an’ my brain has pretty much stopped accepting new knowledge and is damn stingy about handing out what’s in storage, so if I’m going to write a book I better do it now.

Anyway, what I need to do is decide what I want to write about, and find a writing style I’m comfortable with. I’ve always liked Mickey Spillane. Maybe I could use his style and write about a handsome, rugged two-fisted Peruvian private cop. I’d call him Miguel Martillo. I could start the book something like this……

……then she walked into the room and I could feel the air leave my lungs faster than a Buick Roadmaster sucks gas. This was a chica that could spell trouble with a capital T for any man. This was the kinda dame that made a guy start having thoughts; crazy thoughts like hanging up the gun and doing a regular day job selling ceviche outside a combi station; putting a fresh coat of paint over the plaster of a cute little adobe honeymoon cottage, and maybe building a small coup out back to raise cuy and pavo. Yeah…I was having thoughts awright. You bet I was having thoughts!!

I’ll tell you what – this is looking good to me! Can you see a movie coming out of this? Yup, yer right Elmer, the man’s busted one or two banjo strings fur sure. I’m thinking maybe Eva Mendez for the chica and Antonio Banderas (Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t have the time to do it myself) as Martillo.

Now, do I do the book signings in Lima or New York? Decisions, decisions.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chiclayo’s Past

The area Chiclayo occupies today has been populated for thousands of years, beginning with people of whom nothing is known, through several distinct cultures up to the present. The informal founding of Chiclayo took place shortly after the arrival of the Spanish with the construction of Santa María de los Valles de Chiclayo – a Franciscan Monastery begun in 1561. The formal founding (whatever that is) took place in 1720. On April 15 1835 Peruvian president Felipe Santiago Salaverry bestowed the official title of ‘city’ on Chiclayo. For whatever reason he also gave it the honorary title of ‘Heroic City’, which can still be seen on monuments throughout the city.

Because of my fascination with history I have always loved ‘then and now’ photos. I’ve not been able to locate many historical photos of Chiclayo, though I’m told unknown persons have many of them in unknown locations, so my ‘unknown self’ is going to keep looking. I have driven myself and others crazy trying to date the old photos that follow with no success. Let’s just say they’re old.

The Franciscan Monastery “Santa María de los Valles de Chiclayo” has a colorful history. As mentioned earlier construction began in 1561. On September 24 1859 it opened its doors as the San Jose National school. In 1882 during the Pacific War with Chile, the Chilean army occupied the building. In 1906 the building again served as a school until the late 1980s when a portion of the ancient structure collapsed and three students were killed. Since that time what remains of the once proud structure has been boarded up and allowed to slowly crumble.

The building on the left is now Interbank. The central square looks more like a jungle than a park. Whenever I look at this photo I get a ‘Sunday’ feel from it – the cars casually on parade; the strollers and bench occupiers enjoying their day off.

The same view from a slightly higher angle. Things change in 100 years or so. What remains of the monastery is hidden behind palm trees in the photo’s center. I spend hours in this park looking and listening. It’s an island of peace surrounded by the hustle and bustle of central city activity.

Avenue Balta North, taken from somewhere near the central park. The banner apparently is informing the populous of an upcoming annual celebration on December 8th of the “Virgin of Immaculate Conception”, a celebration that has been taking place for 300 years. It seems to me that Peruvians have a preoccupation with virgins. Every organization from postal workers to fire fighters has a patron virgin. Tradition has it that the statue of Elias Aguirre in the park bearing his name tips its hat to every passing virgin.

Avenue Balta North today. The building on the left is the former Royal Hotel, inaugurated in 1930. Just this year it became a Ripley Department Store, one of a huge chain of stores owned by a Chilean conglomerate. The city office building on the right was constructed between 1919 and 1924. Extensive remodeling has recently been completed.

Avenue Elias Aguirre looking east from the intersection with Avenue Balta South. Construction on the Santa Maria Cathedral was begun on February 13 1869. It was consecrated 90 years later in 1959. The road gets its name from Elias Aguirre who was a prominent figure in the Pacific War with Chile. Another important figure in the Pacific War was Jose Leonardo Ortiz. His home still exists today (red arrow) and is designated an historical monument.

Same view today, except I took my photo one hour later. The church and Ortiz’s house are the only objects I’ve been able to identify from the previous photo. What these photos can’t convey is the changes over time. Dozens of restaurants and other businesses have opened, closed and reopened in this block during the interval between the old and new photos. Maribel’s parents watched movies in a cinema half-way down the block on the right. The cinema has long been closed and forgotten, but had not even been conceived of in the preceding photo. Who knows what things will look like in another hundred years?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Built in Santa Rosa II

After learning how a boat is made I became curious about how it’s used, so Maribel and I returned to Santa Rosa to see if we could find someone who would answer our questions. As usual we had no problem. There are always many people willing to help in any way possible, and if they don’t have all the answers they’ll take you to someone who does.

We didn’t have to go any further than Jacinto Bernal Castro, shown seated. He had been a fisherman for 30 years, early on saving his money in the hope of one day owning a boat. He more than met his goal - this boat is one of four Jacinto owns. He doesn’t fish anymore, preferring to call himself an administrator.

The boat is getting a major overhaul – in fact practically rebuilt. Everything but the hull has been replaced, including the steering cabin. It has a new prop and reconditioned 1000hp Catterpillar engine from Lima costing $55,000. The remaining hardware being replaced cost in the area of $5,000.

An item I asked about almost as an afterthought, thinking it not significant was the net. Under the tarp in this photo is one complete net, only half of which is shown. Jacinto called it a “bolichera” and in response to questions about its size said it is 250 x 30 “brazadas marinas”, a measurement that he indicated is the span from finger tip to finger tip of a man’s outstretched arms. Using an arbitrary 6’ for this measurement I came up with dimensions of 500 yards long (5 football fields) by 60 yards deep. The cost is a staggering $30,000.

Launching a boat is done with a machine owned by the fisherman’s association. This launch took about 30 minutes, with the balance of the time being spent in relocating the planks and logs that roll on them. This same machine pulls the boats out of the water. There was a festive atmosphere during this process. It seemed like half the town was on the beach watching two boats get launched and one pulled in. I wonder if that’s always the case or if this was something special?

As I understand it, once a boat is launched it doesn’t touch land again except for annual maintenance. It continuously travels to wherever the fish are; dropping off their catch daily at the nearest fish transport center and anchoring each night at the nearest port, where they will replenish whatever supplies are needed. Jacinto’s boat has a capacity for 40 tons of fish. Wherever they unload their catch, the fish ultimately find their way to Chimbote to be processed. Crew size is 10 to 12 and each has a specific job including the captain, cook, and mechanic, with the rest devoted to fishing tasks. I didn’t learn the mechanism or frequency for payment for the catch but did learn the boat owner gets 55% - the crew splits the rest based on their specific jobs.

According to Jacinto the average lifetime of a boat is 20 years, provided it is laid up for annual maintenance. We didn’t get into a discussion on the financial rewards of fishing. I wish we would have. Looks like another trip to Santa Rosa coming up.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why I don’t wear short pants.

Things change over time. Take wearing shorts for instance. These days guys wearing shorts are commonplace. But it wasn’t always like that, and not everyone wears them now. I notice most older guys in Peru don’t wear shorts, no matter how hot it gets. That makes me feel good…like I once again belong to a brotherhood that hasn’t existed for half a century.

In the late 40s and early 50s on Milwaukee’s South Side we all wore shorts, because our mothers made us (yeah…that’s me in 1944). We didn’t want to, but come summer vacation out came the shorts. “You’ll feel cooler, and besides they look good on you” was the explanation we’d get in response to our protests. We knew the real reason was that there were no knees to wear out and they stayed cleaner a little longer. It was these same unreasonable mothers who made us wear rubber boots at the first hint of a snowflake, and not only wear them, but completely buckle them up which eliminated any chance of salvaging a cool guy image. The only situation that could possibly be worse would be shorts and rubber boots. Nobody could have survived that humiliation. You’d have to move to like Idaho, or someplace like that. 

I think mothers felt it was their duty to make our lives miserable when we were 10 to 12 years old. Maybe they viewed it as character development. The problem with shorts is they made you look and feel like a sissy. I’ll bet in those days shorts were the reason for more bloody noses than anything else. We didn’t have any problem within our gang, because me, Ed, Baldy, Eddie, Pinky, Norb and Eugene were near the same age and all in shorts. It was when we crossed paths with some other gang who had slightly older guys wearing long pants that the insults would come and the fists start flying. If you were in shorts you almost automatically got called a ‘twerp’ by other guys. “Your mother dresses you funny” was a standard taunt. You could either take it and be labeled a sissy, or you started throwing punches. Even if you lost the other guy was less likely to mess with you next time you met. It’s probably not possible to understand the resentment we felt toward shorts if you weren’t there at that time.

We’d see photos in magazines like National Geographic of teenage guys in England, France, and Germany wearing shorts and laugh our heads off. Teenagers!! How could they expect a girl to even look at them (not that we were interested in girls) without laughing? We thought mothers must be really strict over there! And then one day we saw photos of British soldiers fighting in Africa. They were wearing shorts. Soldiers in shorts! Can you imagine John Wayne leading his platoon in an attack on an enemy beach in shorts? Forget the beach...can you even imagine John Wayne in shorts!? Or Wyatt Earp facing a dozen outlaws at high-noon on main street in Tombstone in shorts? The outlaws would have been laughing so hard that the gunfight at the OK Corral would never have happened! One of us suggested that maybe the British government issued shorts to make the soldiers mad and fight harder, but we finely decided that the war was causing shortages of everything and probably they didn't have enough material to make long pants for all of the soldiers. We felt sorry for the guys who were issued short pants.

Going from shorts to long pants was sort of a rite of passage. There wasn’t anything that triggered it. It wasn’t like...”Okay, you’ve reached a certain age or height so now you can wear regular jeans.” It was just…one day a guy would show up in jeans, and you knew he’d crossed over. In our gang Norb was the first. Nobody said anything and nothing really changed but things were never quite the same. If I remember right the following year Ed was next, followed soon after by Eugene and then Baldy. Then there were only three of us left – each of us hoping it would happen to us early next year because none of us wanted to be last. I don’t remember how it worked out. All I remember was there came a time in my life when I was finally through with shorts; an attitude and feeling that remains with me to this day. I could not force myself to go out in public wearing shorts.

However…. it gets very hot in Chiclayo and there are times when I’m in the apartment alone, and I will occasionally put on a pair of exercise shorts I brought from the States. I feel foolish doing it. I hear voices from long ago saying “your mother dresses you funny.” But it does feel a lot cooler than jeans, and…well…things change over time. Take wearing shorts for instance.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Twenty-four hours of rain.

In many parts of the world rain for that length of time is not unusual, but in Chiclayo it causes problems. The news broadcast out of Lima said we officially got 20 liters per square meter. I have no idea how that measurement can be of use to anyone. No one I’ve talked with so far can visualize it, except to say it’s a lot. Mathematically it works out to 2cm or .79 inches. That may not sound like much until you realize Chiclayo’s entire rainfall for an average year is .95 inches.

The rain began during the parade Saturday, mentioned in the previous entry. It continued through the night fairly heavy at times and finally ended at about 1:00PM Sunday. There was wide-spread flooding in the streets…in some areas the water reached inside houses and businesses. Many moto operators opted not to work, and those that did raised their prices by 150%. Incidentally while trying to find a good camera angle for this photo I inadvertently stepped off the curb and found myself ankle deep in water. Does that make me a flood victim?

Rain in any appreciable amount is always a problem for coastal cities like Chiclayo. It happen so infrequently that city infrastructure planning disregards it as do architects designing/building businesses and houses. As a result flooding occurs and water entering buildings through doors or skylights is common. We have two skylights in our apartment and both leaked. Many people were seen on their roofs throwing water by the bucket onto the streets.

Another problem is walking during and immediately after rain. Water mixes with the ever present dust to form a slippery paste. In the case of a smooth side walk of either concrete or tile its necessary to ‘shuffle’, or risk finding yourself suddenly on your back looking at the sky.

But the rain is over, cleanup is well underway and soon everything will be back to normal. Motos and taxies will be out in full force charging normal fares. Mosquitoes and other insects, which appear with the rain as if by magic will make their presence felt over the next several days before disappearing to wherever it is they go when it isn’t raining. Such is life in a desert.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Festival de la Amistad y la Gastronomia 2010

Para las señoritas, prometì mostrar las fotos en este articulo… he cumplido mi promesa.

The Festival of Friendship and Gastronomy 2010 kicked off yesterday with a parade through central Chiclayo. No, I don’t know why friendship and gastronomy are linked together in a festival. They just are. That’s the type of thing I’ve stopped asking questions about in Peru. The celebration runs for two weeks, finishing on the 20th. There are 35 districts in the Lambayeque Region and each of them is invited to send representatives to take part in any and all festivals. Normally less than half the districts take part and often far less than half. I’m only guessing but I believe it’s probably a lack of money for travel and other expenses that limits participation.

Saturday’s parade, in spite of a rare day of rain had a healthy representation from districts all over the region, many of them in native dress dancing to traditional music. These beautiful young ladies whose names I neglected to ask are from (l to r) Bagua, Monsefù and Jaen. Though we had no common language, they tried to answer my many questions prior to the parade beginning about the traditions being demonstrated.

One of the more impressive parts of the parade for me was the group of young women from Zaña who periodically would stop to perform the Festejo – a slave dance. Back in the 17th century Zaña had a large African slave population. There is still a significant portion with that heritage remaining and their traditions are alive and well. Their performance alone made it worth facing the rain and crowds.

Peruvians are proud of their horses, especially the breed known as the Paso. Parade viewers voiced oooohs and ahhhhs as a large contingent of chalanes (horse trainers/riders) rode by in formation. These horses are trained to dance the Marinera.

I don’t know where these guys are from, but I think the custom they were depicting is called hamming it up for the camera. Bands like this are common all over Peru…almost all of them trying to imitate the hugely successful Grupo Cinco from Monsefù. Most don’t make it and quietly drop out of existence, but they have fun while it lasts.

The nearby village of Picsi sent a large contingent. Their clothing represents a mixture of different time periods and uses, from the ancient Moche to modern carnival costumes. The girl on the left is dressed as Miss Inikuk – meaning Moche Maiden taken from Moche legend.

These dancers are actually students from a dance institute in Chiclayo depicting a traditional dance of the Shipibo tribe from the upper Amazon. The tribe, with a population of about 35,000 lives in from 300 to 400 villages near the town of Pucallpa. What really impresses me is the seriousness these dancers and the others bring to their performance. One can almost feel a sense of obligation on their part to preserve and pass on intact these traditions out of respect for their ancestors.

As the parade was drawing to a close an older, well-dressed man was heard to exclaim loudly to the crowd at large… “This is what we need more of! This is Peru and our traditions!” He’ll get no argument from me.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Built in Santa Rosa

I like Santa Rosa. It’s a quiet town on the ocean with friendly people and just the right amount of growth and activity to make it feel alive. There is a long, wide main street that has a hint of a touristy feel to it, though the town is not really into tourist promotion. You’ll see a few people swimming, but what really dominates the beach is hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes; there for the purpose of being completed for their maiden voyage, or being refitted for what may be their final taste of the sea. What Santa Rosa is all about is the fishing industry, and particularly fishing boats.

There are four or five boat builders located in or near Santa Rosa. One recent afternoon we visited Astillero Santa Rosa EIRL boat builders located just outside of the town. There we saw two new boats in process and one being refurbished - the Segundo Ernesto out of Callao. When I say in process, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were being worked on. We learned that, as with the building construction industry, boats are usually built in stages as the owner has money.

The ship yards are basic and simple. This builder has no municipal electricity and relies on a 5000 watt generator for power and lights. The tools are mostly hand tools. The only ‘floor’ tools we saw were a planner and a band saw, each with its own gas engine. The wood comes primarily from jungle towns like Tarapoto and Pucallpa and is of the species Tornillo and Faique.

This boat is 46’long, 20’ wide and 20’deep. We were told it would take four men three months to complete it to the stage where it is ready to be fitted with the engine and other hardware, which is done on the beach by a different builder. The cost to bring it to the fully framed stage is $42,000.

We were able to find a similar boat that is within two weeks of completion on the beach. A Volvo engine from Lima had been installed. The stainless steel walls of the hold; winches, electronics, rails and all other hardware were pretty much in place. I was unable to determine the finished price of the boat, but I’m sure it is two or three times what it cost to get it framed.

I was invited on board to take photos and quickly learned a) climbing aboard on a rickety tree-limb ladder is a feat in itself, and b) there isn’t any wasted space on a fishing boat. I couldn’t make a move without stepping on or banging into something. Nor could I find a good camera angle to show the full extent of what these boats are about. Most of the men were involved in working on cosmetic touches such as finishing cabinets in the kitchen. I would like to have seen more of the interior of the boat but given the equipment, tools and working men there simply wasn’t the room or opportunity.

I hope to return to Santa Rosa soon, because I’ve got a lot of questions about what happens once that boat touches water. Who knows?...maybe I can get myself invited on a fishing expedition. I also want to get back to the restaurant La Brisa Del Mar. The view is great, the atmosphere relaxing and the fish is fantastic.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

To My Grandchildren

This entry has nothing to do with experiences or observations in Peru, other than what I am about to describe happened last night in our apartment in Chiclayo.

I was reading an internet article, a portion of which follows:

Daniel Tammet is talking. As he talks, he studies my shirt and counts the stitches. Ever since the age of three, when he suffered an epileptic fit, Tammet has been obsessed with counting. Now he is 26, and a mathematical genius who can figure out cube roots quicker than a calculator and recall pi to 22,514 decimal places. He also happens to be autistic, which is why he can't drive a car, wire a plug, or tell right from left. He lives with extraordinary ability and disability.

Tammet is calculating 377 multiplied by 795. Actually, he isn't "calculating": there is nothing conscious about what he is doing. He arrives at the answer instantly. Since his epileptic fit, he has been able to see numbers as shapes, colors and textures. The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder. "When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. It's mental imagery. It's like math without having to think."

For whatever reason I decided to relax, close my eyes and see if I could envision numbers as anything other than numbers. The best I could do was form an image of the numbers 377 and 795 enclosed in separate white cloud-like shapes, with 377 on the left. I imagined the two forms slowly merging. When the ‘clouds’ had completely merged, they faded and were replaced with another cloud containing the number 29. I knew that 29 was not the answer to 377 x 795 and was about to end the experiment when I became aware that another 9 had appeared. Still, 299 is not the answer so I opened my eyes, but as I was opening them I thought I had a brief image of other numbers forming in the cloud, though I can’t say that with certainty. The entire episode took no more than 3 seconds. The article didn’t give the answer to the problem so out of curiosity I did the calculation on a calculator. The hair on my arms stood up when I saw the answer....299715. I tried it several more times with different numbers but the clouds didn’t disappear nor did the third cloud appear.

Your mom and dad will tell you I am always the skeptic. My world is tangible and verifiable. I don’t accept anything without some credible evidence indicating the possibility of truth. But something happened last night that I can’t explain, and in my view can’t be explained by chance or coincidence. I hope someday you’ll read this. Perhaps during your life time whatever happened last night will have been discovered, explained and be commonplace.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Paranormal Activity

Chiclayo’s CinePlanet has air conditioning and our apartment doesn’t so it seemed like a good idea to take in a movie last night. After checking the listings we decided on Paranormal Activity, which is a low-budget artsy film of the type that plays well to critics and bombs with the general public. To me the movie borrowed heavily from all aspects of ‘The Blair Witch Project’ of some years ago.

There were long lines at the ticket office, most of whom were there to see the premier of ‘Old Dogs’ with John Travolta and Robin Williams. Tickets to ‘Dogs’ were soon sold out so the overflow opted for Paranormal.

Paranormal is supposed to be a scary film and it does a decent job of consistently building and accumulating suspense from scene to scene, most of which involve a camera recording a sleeping couple while a demon raises havoc with them. Anyway, this is not a movie review, so on to my point.

The entertainment for me came not from the movie, but from the audience and one little girl. During the first ’sleeping couple’ scene the girl was heard to say to her mother that she didn’t like this and wanted to go. The audience chuckled. As the intensity of each scene increased, the girl continued whimpering in a successively louder voice…“Mama…let’s go!” The audience responded with loud and long collective laughter. It was at this point I realized the audience was using this girl to mask their tension. She allowed them to laugh through the scary parts, even while holding on tightly to chair arms and each other. I actually believe that at this point if she had not cried out the audience would have demanded she do so. During the climax scenes the girl was literally screaming…“Mama it’s coming again!” and pleading to go. Audience laughter drowned out the remaining dialogue.

Movie goers who watched Paranormal Activity last night owe a big thanks to a little girl who thought she was going to see a comedy with Travolta and Williams and ended up getting the crap scared out of her for an hour and a-half. She probably never even tasted her popcorn. I hope she slept well.